With a new crop of hotels, restaurants and outdoor adventures, this bright, food-loving city – dubbed the American Riviera – has grown even bigger.
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TThe last time I visited Santa Barbara was in those halcone before times. The oceanfront city — just under two hours north of Los Angeles and five hours south of my home in the Bay Area — has long been a haven for people who crave a mix of adventure and culture with a side of Spanish colonial architecture and beach time, (and now, Meghan and Harry). But its combination of temperate climate (the temperature rarely drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit) and outdoor living means Santa Barbara is, let’s say, uniquely suited to offering the things we’ve all sought during the pandemic: nature and the ability to gather in fresh air.
Indeed, in May 2021, the city—after years of debate—transformed 10 blocks of its main drag, State Street, into a pedestrian walkway that could rival the best of Europe. Starting at four blocks of the waterfront, travelers and locals alike can stroll or cycle block after block, and it’s now filled with parks and outdoor patios.
Spent the weekend exploring all that’s new and fun — and here’s how you can, too.
New hotels to check in
Ballhouse It felt like a home away from home – well, the impeccably decorated luxury home of my dreams. The 24-room boutique hotel opened in March of 2021 and is located on a quiet stretch of Garden Street, three blocks from State Street. Rooms are spacious and equipped with new and colorful antique furniture, quirky art, Smeg fridges and a tempting selection of snacks in the mini bar. There’s a pool to relax in during the day, an intimate bar decorated with pink chandeliers for wine by night, and a plant-filled courtyard where you can order breakfast and lunch. Bonus: You’re right around the corner from the beautiful head Alicia Pastry, opened in July 2021 by pastry chef, Alicia Johar, home of Santa Barbara. (You can’t go wrong, but my partner and I had rum-accented monkey bread and a crusty croissant filled with ham—and swore to go back for the chocolate bombshell filled with liquid chocolate.)
For those looking for an ocean view, book a room at sea mountain. The 90-year-old, a local icon, is newly renovated that has preserved the bones of the Spanish Revival (check out the painted beams in the lobby) but all of its 200 rooms have been updated with new poppy furniture and dive-inspired art, as are the main gathering spaces. Don’t miss a meal at the new on-site Costa Kitchen & Bar, where you can relax with cocktails at the patio bar while watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Then enjoy Mediterranean dishes (branzino with salsa green olives, lamb with charred feta) on the restaurant’s patio, which also overlooks the beach.
Restaurants to plan a trip around
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There are a host of new places – or news – to eat well in this food-loving city, starting with the latest three additions to our Michelin California Guide: talk to me (Spanish restaurant with excellent tapas, rated Bib Gourmand), Caruso (California-style dining at Rosewood in Montecito, just north of town), and Baby Ji. On the outside patio at Baby J’s, the best Indian food – with glasses of natural wine – I’ve had in years, including butter chicken I can still think of, fire-fried cauliflower, and dreamy paneer-stuffed kulcha, a type of flatbread. Don’t skip the sauce section on the menu – the gumbo raita was out of this world (and me Start like okra).
Beyond the Michelin Guide, there’s plenty to eat. pigeon, which opened in November 2020, honors the restaurant of the same name that has been in the same location for 37 years. On the spacious outdoor patio, enjoy a homemade spoonful of pozole verde and Santa Maria Wagyu’s trio of criminally good: sliced thin with a mouth-watering grease on the outside and paired with ranchero sauce.
For lunch – or dinner – you can’t go wrong bao secret, a casual restaurant that opened in March 2021 and trades in good bao bread: fried spicy Korean chicken, tender octopus, or even a PB&J pleated, taco-style, to a pillow bao. (Cover things with donut bao, a fried concoction topped with vanilla ice cream.) Korean fried chicken is also on the menu at Busy KitchenNamed after the carved cow that once sat atop an Art Deco building, it was once a dairy cow — this time sandwiched between a bun and topped with sesame slaw and gochujang sauce. Delicacies, homemade brioche donuts, and a quiet outdoor patio attract people from all over the city.
wrap up your day
You have to find a way to pass the hours between meals, right? In January 2021, Trek Bikes — whose CEO, John Burke, lives locally for part of the year — rolled out. Course, an e-bike-sharing program in downtown Santa Barbara. Simply download the app and stop it. The 4.5 mile beachfront path is a foregone conclusion, but I loved pedaling up into the hills, towards old mission—And with an e-bike, you won’t be sweating.
Or you can take a stroll down the State Street Promenade and enter the newly renovated building Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The six-year, $50 million remodel — which was completed in August 2021 — added a contemporary art gallery and one dedicated to photography, among many other changes. Sundays are free to the public. In 2022, see Through the Eyes of Vincent: Van Gogh and His Sources, which will feature 20 works by the artist and Van Gogh-inspired partnerships with opera, symphony and other institutions.
Drink morning, noon and night
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Greetings today in dart coffee In the funk zoneAn area full of food and art near the waterfront. Yes, there might be a line but that’s fine because a) you’ll be outside where you can enjoy the hot pink market lights and two spacious sitting areas (one of which is a plant-filled garden space across the street) and b) expertly made coffee and probably the best empanadas in town are waiting for you. I’m a fan of sweet corn and onion with churro latte on the side. Impatience? Attempt Golden Line coffee On Anacaba Street. We stumbled upon this pop up one morning while wandering the Post-Farmer’s Market. The Villa Wine Bar is occupied on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays and serves teas and coffees, such as tea-infused cocoa latte and mono-origin flavors.
You Can’t Throw A Cork Without Hitting a Tasting Room or Wine Bar in Santa Barbara, Newcomers Included will repent And venus in fur, which has a botanical popup. But off the main road is a light little place called La Arcada Plaza, where you’ll find places to eat, shop and wine tastings, including at Barberry and Quimpe wines. The European-feeling tasting room (check out the cheese tray!), which opened in late 2020, shares wine under two posters from husband and wife duo Paolo Barbieri and Erin Kempe. We can’t help but bring home a bottle of Barbieri’s Rhône-style pomegranate and a full-bodied Kempe Bianco, a vognier mix.
After a day of good eating and playing in the sun, nothing beats settling down with a well-mixed drink. Located in the Funk District and operated by the same group that owns neighboring Lucky Penny, Lark and Helena Avenue Bakery (all delicious), Pearl Social Posh interior, small patio – and good cocktails so we came back the next night. Ask Chris to mix you up Martin & Gina, a blend made with gin and amaru. Just blocks from the beach, in Holy mezcalIn this article, you’ll find the city’s most comprehensive list of tequila and the spirit of the restaurant of the same name. Order the Oaxacan Daiquiri (a world away from its overly sweet cousin, the resort brew) and savor the sounds of people living the good life.
Watch before you come
Julia, the recently released HBO documentary about the life of Julia Child, who retired to Montecito in 2002. Although Santa Barbara isn’t the focus of the document, it’s still fun to watch and then take Inspired by Julia Going Around the City, and stop at favorites like Saturday farmers market, Sicilian oil and lemonand of course, super rich cap For steak tacos.
Coming in 2022
Take the Kids Down: In January 2022, Santa Barbara Zoo He will unveil The Australian Walkabout, an immersive exhibit that will allow explorers to wander among resident wallabies, emus, and more. In the spring of 2022, watch out for the new model Drift Santa Barbara, a technology-focused hotel on State Street, renovated water, The Moxy Hotel in the Funk District.
As of November 2021, Santa Barbara has no travel warnings in effect. Travelers aged 2 and over are Masks are still required indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Approximately 72 percent of eligible Santa Barbara residents are vaccinated. For more information, see this dashboard.
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